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A Child's Death From Measles

Dahl and his wife Patricia Neal and their children Theo, Tessa and Olivia in 1961.

Children's author Roald Dahl is famous for writing “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda.” He's less known for being the father of a little girl who died from measles encephalitis in 1962.

In the early '60s, the measles vaccine was still being perfected when Dahl's 7-year-old daughter Olivia became infected. Her health took a fatal turn when she developed encephalitis, which the CDC says affects one child out of every 1,000 who gets measles. Acute encephalitis causes swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, resulting in deafness, mental retardation and even death. Though encephalitis is still fatal today, the best chance at beating it is never getting it. To do that, one most avoid having the measles.

As the Washington Post notes, in 1988 Dahl wrote a short account of his daughter's death in which he urged parents to get their kids immunized:

"There is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunized against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.”

It was eventually understood that a dose of live measles is needed to create a suitable vaccine. Many measles vaccines administered during the 1960s proved ineffective because they relied on killed measles. These days the measles vaccine is offered at part of the MMR vaccine and covers measles, mumps and rubella. It's recommended for all children, and many states require proof of immunization before attending school.

Dahl never had the chance to guard his child from the measles, but parents now have that opportunity. A recent outbreak at Disneyland is placing the issue back in the headlines. Click here for more information about the measles and why the vaccine is a lifesaver.

Image via The Telegraph

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